Why all bookworms should visit Stratford-upon-Avon?
With its historic, timber-frames houses, this pretty town on the fringes of the Cotswolds, should be on everyone’s radar, especially if you are planning a literary trip. This may only be a small market town, but it may be one of the most famous locations in the whole of England. Being the birthplace of the most renowned playwright of all time, when you wander around the quaint streets, you will be unable to avoid Shakespeare’s influence.
Alongside the numerous restaurants and traditional taverns you have an abundance of modern bars, shops and boutiques to explore as well several museums and bookshops and homes occasioned with the world-famous Bard.
Famous Writers of Stratford-upon-Avon
Stratford-upon-Avon’s most notable writer is of course, William Shakespeare. You only need to walk around the town to realise just how much of an influence he has had not only on the written word but also his birthplace. Not only is his boyhood home beautifully preserved, there are many establishments either named after him or are known to be locations where he frequented. It is therefore not surprising that this is the main reason for any visit to this Warwickshire town.
However, he is not the only notable writer to grace this historical town with his presence.
Elizabeth Gaskell, author of several novels including Cranford, North and South and Wives and Daughters, and many gothic ghost stories, attended the now derelict Avonbank School in Stratford-Upon-Avon.
Marie Corelli or Mary Mackay, was at one time one of the mostly widely read author of fiction, with her book sales exceeding that of her contemporaries including Arthur Conan Doyle, H. G. Wells, and Rudyard Kipling.
Where to Stay When Visiting the Town
#1 The White Swan
All 41 bedrooms at The White Swan are unique in this Grade II listed building. Filled to the brim with character and centuries old features combined with modern touches, a night here is bound to be memorable.
You can choose a room with a four-poster bed, a roll top bath or heavy wooden beams, all named after Shakespeare’s most notorious characters.
The building itself dates back to 1450 and became an inn around 1560, when it was owned by Robert Perrott, a brewer. The husband of Robert’s granddaughter Susanne was a boyhood friend of William Shakespeare and so it is believed that the young Bard would have spent time drinking in the tavern that sits below the rooms which still offers a wide selection of ales and good food today.
#2 The Arden
Like many of the buildings in town, this one is part of the Royal Shakespeare Company’s estate, and If the research is to be believed, William Shakespeare himself had a connection to it, writing several of his plays in the gardens here.
Directly opposite the Royal Shakespeare Theatre and on the River Avon, this is a luxury boutique hotel that offers sumptuous stays in modern surroundings with plush furnishings.
#3 The Shakespeare, Mercure Stratford
This hotel, located in the oldest part of town, changed its name to The Shakespeare in the 18th century and oozes history and is believed to be the first exploitation of the Bard’s name for tourism purposes.
This hotel is within touching distance of both Shakespeare’s school room and Shakespeare’s New Place and well as the Guildhall.
Mixing old and new, this hotel is spread across four different buildings, one of which dates back to the 14th century, and has huge open fireplaces and charming creaky floorboards that only add to the appeal of this character property. Many of the 78 rooms are named after Shakespeare’s characters or plays and many have well-known quotes adorning the walls inside.
5 Things to See and Do While in Stratford-upon-Avon
#1 Step back in time and explore Shakespeare’s World
No trip to Stratford would be complete without a day exploring each of the locations associated with the world-famous playwright.
Start the day at Shakespeare’s Birthplace, the imposing, beautifully preserved building on Henley Street and learn more about his childhood home. You can wander around both his home and the gardens knowing that you are literally walking in the Bard’s footsteps.
From there you can wander around the Shakespeare’s New Place, also known as the Great House. This grand medieval home was built in the 1480’s and was the largest house at the time in the area, making it a significant purchase for the playwright. Unfortuately the originally building was demolished in 1759 so what stands there today is more symbolic than factually correct. If you visit during the warmer months, be sure to enjoy a picnic in the gardens where you will be surrounded by ornate statues depicting Shakespeare’s main characters.
Time permitting you also need to visit Hall’s Croft, which was the Jacobean home of his daughter Susanna and her husband, physician John Hall. This is also the perfect location for lunch or a well-deserved cup of tea and a scone in the beautiful tearoom attached to the museum.
For those of you that have read Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell you may also wish to take a trip out to Anne Hathaway’s cottage located in the village of Shottery just outside of Stratford-upon-Avon. Originally known as Hewlands farm, this beautiful cottage is over 500-years-old and it is where Shakespeare courted his future bride.
Finally, there is also Mary Arden’s Farm, the childhood home of Shakespeare’s mother. If you have little ones that are intrigued with farm animals this is a great day out, and it will give the whole family an opportunity to experience a real Tudor working farm. Here you can also watch falconry displays and craft demonstrations plus wander the historic buildings before your little ones spend some time in the playground.
#2 A Trip to the Theatre
If you are visiting Stratford because your love of Shakespeare’s plays an evening with the Royal Shakespeare Company is a must.
Known for propelling many well-known actors and actresses into the limelight, this famous theatre performs both plays written by Shakespeare and the writers of today.
#3 Shakespeare’s School Room and the Guildhall
Explore the very room where Shakespeare was inspired by literature and plays for the first time while also learning more about what a school was like during Tudor times. To fully immerse yourselves in the experience there is also an opportunity to dress up in authentic clothing while you learn to write with quill and ink.
#4 Holy Trinity Church
Shakespeare sadly died on his 52nd birthday in 1616. When you find Shakespeare’s tomb inside the Holy Trinity Church make sure you read the epitaph on the gravestone as it was written by Shakespeare himself.
This has become a popular pilgrimage site for all those wanting to visit the famous Bard’s final resting place.
#5 Tudor World
In the centre of town you will find this living, historical museum set within a beautiful grand II listed building. Using various historical settings, when you wander around you will discover the secret lives of the Tudors and what life was really like during the time of William Shakespeare; Francis Drake; Elizabeth I and Henry VIII.
If you are a fan of walking tours, Tudor World also offer entertaining Shakespeare themed walks around Stratford as well as spooky ghost tours by lantern light.
Places all Book Lovers Should Eat and Drink
#1 The Garrick Inn
Reputed to be the oldest pub in town, this half timber based building could well have been where a local bout of the plague began. If this is the case, it may explain why many believe the pub to be haunted. I can only imagine the sad souls that may feel trapped here.
Located opposite Shakespeare’s New Place and inside the Hotel Indigo, this restaurant is housed in a building dating back to 1500 and has played host to The Royal Shakespeare Club’s annual dinner since 1824.
#3 The Vintner
Whether stopping in for a meal, a coffee or a pre-theatre drink, you will be drawn to the wall of RSC posters highlighting many of the famous faces that have performed in the town.
It is also believed that this building once belonged to John Smith who in the 1600’s was a wine merchant or a vintner and therefore may well have sold wine to Shakespeare himself.
Only 300 yards from Shakespeare’s birthplace, this stunning pub stands out because it is the only thatched inn remaining in town. With hard stoned floors and an open fire place enticing you through the door, you can relax in comfort while trying one of the many ales on tap or enjoying a spot of lunch under rafters dating back to 1470.
#5 Sabai Sabai
While we all love good, traditional pub grub, there are also plenty of alternative options to choose from.
Sabai Sabai is beautiful Thai restaurant authentically decorated on the inside that produces amazing tastes from the East and is well-worth visiting after a day of exploring. They also offer some very appealing lunchtime offers for those that want to try something different at a very reasonable price.
Bookshops to Explore
It is probably unsurprising that Stratford-upon-Avon, considering its size, has an abundance of bookshops to explore. Waterstones takes pride of place on the High Street and when you visit Shakespeare’s Birthplace the Shakespeare Bookshop is crammed full of all types of Shakespearean literature from volumes of his complete works to comic strips of Romeo and Juliet to peruse. However, wander further out and there are other bookshops that are bound to command a bookworm’s attention.
Other bookshops then include…
Located on Chapel Street this is a well-stocked second-hand bookshop specialising in rare and antiquarian books covering a wide range of subject matter including fictional and non-fictional works.
This bookshop is housed in a Grade II listed building that was once home to Julius Shaw, a friend of Shakespeare best known for being a witness of the poet’s will and in 1905 it became home to The Shakespeare Head Press, founded by Edmund Bullen.
#2 The Shakespeare Hospice Bookshop
There is nothing better than finding a bookshop combined with a café, afterall it then gives you more time to look over the shelves for enticing books to pick up.
At least this way, while nibbling on a scone you can read a few pages to make sure the title, or in my case often the titles, are right before buying.
This Hospice shop doesn’t just sell books however; it is also where you can pick up DVDs, music albums and many other creative items for either yourself or as a gift.
#3 Timeless Tales
This is not only a bookshop but a store dedicated to Beatrix Potter. The aim of this shop is to bring the magic of Beatrix Potter to this small Warwickshire town and so whether you are looking for a gift or just want to treat yourself when you wander through the door here you will be faced with many of your favourite childhood characters including Peter Rabbit, Jemima Puddle Duck and Mrs Tiggy-Winkle as well as Paddington Bear, the Hungry Caterpillar and the Gruffalo.
Finally, also located on Henley Street you will find The House of Spells, a Harry Potter Gift Shop, selling authentic memorabilia from the film franchise as well as many other well-known fantastical shows including Game of Thrones.
For bookworms travelling to Stratford-upon-Avon the very final thing you really must check out is the Stratford Literary Festival which runs events throughout the year and focuses on all genres and time periods. Yes, there will no doubt be events focusing on the famous playwright himself but there are also many other things you may want to get involved in, including the occasional bookish quiz.
Have you visited Stratford-upon-Avon? What other sites or landmarks of literary significance would you recommend to others?
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If you are based within the UK or the US and prefer to support independent bookshops, then you can find a full list of all the books and authors mentioned in this article on our bookshop page.
This article has been produced in collaboration with Hotels.com but all views are my own.
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